One of the most common criticisms that I’ve seen of Ezekiel Elliott during his contract holdout is that he’s asking for more money with two years left on his deal. What’s important to remember is that Zeke is only taking advantage of a provision that the union fought for in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and one that the owners ultimately agreed to.
The terms of the current CBA are the final product of a tug-of-war between owners and players; and series of give-and-take decisions in which each side takes acceptable wins and losses to achieve desired outcomes.
Under the CBA, NFL players are allowed to renegotiate their rookie contracts after three years. This does not change if the player was a 1st-round pick, like Elliott, who had an extra year added to his contract through the team option.
Dallas took advantage of that option, another provision determined by the CBA, to put a fifth year on Zeke’s contract. Even though it increases his salary to over $9 million in 2020, that will still be well below market value ($13-$15M) for one of the league’s top running backs.
But Elliott has every right under the same CBA to seek a new deal after his third season. He is simply utilizing an opportunity that Jerry Jones and the other 31 owners approved.
Nobody faults an NFL team when they cut an under-performing player in the middle of his contract. The guaranteed money gets paid out and everything happens according to the allowances of the CBA. It’s just part of the business of football.
Why should a player out-performing his contract not get the same rights?
When you say, “But Zeke has two years left on his contract,” you are looking at it from a one-sided perspective. You’re also basically siding with NFL ownership and management, which I doubt many would want to admit to.
Few are criticizing Carson Wentz for getting a new deal after Year 3, just as few are questioning Dak Prescott for seeking the same. Ezekiel Elliott was in their draft class; he’s put in the same three years of service that they have.
Like the Cowboys did with Zeke, the Eagles picked up Wentz’s 5th-year option back early in the spring. At that point, Carson had two years left on his rookie deal just like Elliott. But Wentz and Philadelphia agreed on a major contract extension in June.
Of course, there were some differences in these situations. The Eagles wanted to get a new deal done with Wentz before the market value increased, and potentially before he had a monster season in 2019. They didn’t want to risk having to make him the highest-paid QB in the NFL in 2020.
Elliott has already put in his work, leading the NFL in rushing production the last three years. He can already make a reasonable claim to be the highest-paid RB in football, and that is the dilemma now between he and the Cowboys.
We can argue plenty, and already have, about the value of paying any RB what Elliott is seeking. That’s not the point of this article.
My issue is with criticizing Zeke for seeking the money now because he has two years left on his contract. That is a technicality; something that only exists because the Cowboys took advantage of a specific provision of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
That same CBA allows players to seek a new deal after three seasons. Ezekiel Elliott has every right to ask for it now.